U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert targeted Durango School District 9-R on Monday during a Mesa County Republican Women luncheon where she repeated a well-refuted lie that school districts across the country are providing litter boxes to children “who identify as cats.”
“Durango is doing this,” Boebert said, according to a report by the Colorado Times Recorder. “This is how extreme it is.”
Durango School District said the statement is false and disparaging.
“No, we don’t provide litter boxes; our children use bathrooms,” Karla Sluis, spokeswoman for district, told The Durango Herald on Thursday.
Furscience, the public face of International Anthropomorphic Research Project, a group of scientists studying furry fandom to help people better understand its culture, describes furries as “a diverse community of artists, writers, gamers and role players who are interested in anthropomorphized animal characters.”
Sluis said she is dismayed that Boebert’s false comments, which have been flung by other Republican politicians in Colorado and across the country for months, are receiving any attention.
“There’s no sense that teachers would ever have litter boxes anywhere, and yet this rumor seems to keep getting perpetuated, not just in Durango but all over the country,” she said.
She said comments such as Boebert’s are efforts to undermine public education and insinuate that schools are “going too far in celebrating our students’ unique identities” and are “very hurtful to children.”
“We have over 30 Native American tribes represented in our schools, which is amazing. And of course a huge Latinx community. We just want to make sure that the diversity of our students is celebrated,” she said.
She said Boebert and others should “think twice” before making false, disparaging comments because they could make students “feel embarrassed that they’re being singled out in what is essentially a lie.”
She said children can develop mental health issues when they are made to feel like they don’t belong, and a sense of belonging is a core focus of the school district’s diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging program.
“‘Belonging’ is an important part of being a student,” she said. “You might think back to how you felt as a middle schooler or an elementary student or even in high school. The need to belong is very strong and it’s a kind of a deal-breaker on whether a kid will engage in school or not.”
In a text message to The Durango Herald, Sluis added that the school district believes in teaching critical thinking, respectful treatment of others and behaving with integrity.
“The silver lining of this ridiculous claim is that it is a good teachable moment about behavior to avoid,” Sluis said.
She said she’d rather Durango School District receive attention for its recent SAT, PST and Colorado Measures of Academic Success test scores that placed the district among the top 20% of schools in Colorado.
Kristin Smith, president of the Durango Board of Education, also highlighted students’ testing achievements. In an email to the Herald, she declined to comment on what she thinks about Boebert’s statements, but affirmed that all Durango School District schools use standard restrooms.
“As a Board, we are laser focused on all students receiving the very best education in our Durango 9-R School District,” she said. “... The Board is so proud of our students and staff who have worked so hard through the pandemic to rise to the top 20% of schools in the state of Colorado for student achievement.”
On Sept. 16, Durango School District announced in a news release that several of its schools “had very high growth on English Language Arts (ELA) and math with growth rates of 70 and above.”
The test scores placed the school district in the top 20% of Colorado schools.
“This is a big win for everyone – students, parents, staff, and community,” Superintendent Karen Cheser said in the release. “It’s clear evidence of our district’s success and our students’ increasing achievement – even during a challenging pandemic year.”
The claim that school districts are placing litter boxes in school bathrooms received a Pants on Fire! rating from PoliticFact in April, which said “school districts in Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska have debunked claims that they are providing litter boxes in bathrooms.”
The Associated Press also debunked claims in April in Dansville Central School in western New York, attributing dismissal of the rumor to Dansville Central School District Superintendent Paul Alioto.
“Administrators across dozens of districts, from Michigan to Texas to Wisconsin and New York, have batted down the false narrative, which has been promoted on social media by radio hosts, politicians and pundits who have used it to drum up outrage toward school policies on gender and bathroom use,” the AP reported.
Nebraska Sen. Bruce Bostelman, a Republican, issued a public apology in March for spreading the same rumor that school districts are providing litter boxes in bathrooms for students “who identify as cats,” according to another AP report.
Boebert’s comments on Monday mark at least the second time she’s engaged in falsehoods about schools and furry culture.
On Sept. 9, Boebert spoke at the 2022 Truth & Liberty Coalition Conference in Woodland Park, where she told a story similar to the one she shared Monday in Mesa County.
Similar to what the Colorado Times Recorder reported about Boebert’s comments about Durango School District, the congresswoman set up her spiel with an anecdote about a report she received from a concerned parent.
“I was in Michigan and a man told me that his son got in trouble because he stepped on a furry’s tail in school,” she said at the conference.
She said furries were described to her as people who think they are cats or dogs and followed with, “I think your son needs to go to school and identify as a trapper.”
Boebert’s congressional office did not respond to a request for comment.
Adam Frisch, the Democratic challenger running in Colorado District 3 to unseat Boebert, said in an interview Thursday that 99% of Coloradan’s concerns with education are what kids should be taught in school.
“Study after study shows that good teachers in bad schools are better than bad teachers in good schools, and the vast majority of teachers are great in our district,” he said.
He said teachers need to be compensated appropriately, respected and honored for their work.
“That’s the best way to make sure we have kids that grow up to be good students and good citizens,” he said.
An earlier version of this story used an incorrect mathematical concept – percentile – in describing Durango School District 9-R’s test scores. The school district placed in the top 20% of schools in Colorado.